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Aussies abandoning cash and cheques for cards and tech


Mark Bristow

Mark Bristow


New figures released by the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) confirm what many of us have suspected for some time – fewer Aussies are making cash payments for their purchases, and more are utilising cards and other cashless fintech solutions.

The 2016 Consumer Payments Survey, conducted every three years since 2007, recorded information on around 17,000 day-to-day payments made by over 1500 participants during a week.

Based on this data, the RBA drew the following conclusions: 

  • Credit and debit cards were the most frequently used payment method, overtaking cash for the first time, spurred in part by the popularity of contactless “tap and go” technologies for many lower-value transactions.
  • Cash is not out of the game completely, with cash payments being used intensively by some segments of the population, such as respondents aged 65 and over, as well as lower-income households.
  • Mobile phone payments via cashless apps were not widely used at the time of the survey, due to being relatively new technology. That said, consumers were found to be increasingly using their mobile phones to make online and person-to-person payments.
  • Direct debits and similar automatic payments were also found to be being used more frequently.

The RBA’s survey results mirror the findings of several other studies and surveys, conducted by finance industry organisations in Australia and overseas, indicating that the trend away from cash in favour of cards and digital payments is part of a wider phenomenon.

The Milestones Report from the Australian Payments Network (formerly the Australian Payments Clearing Association) found that the use of cheques declined by 20% in 2016 alone, while cash withdrawals from ATMs dropped by 22% between 2011 and 2016.

On the flip side, digital payments rose in popularity, with direct entry transactions (e.g. direct debits) increasing by 37% from 2011 to 2016, and card transactions increasing by 72% over the same period.

Similarly, an international survey of mobile banking customers conducted by ING found that throughout Australia, Europe and the USA, cash was declining in popularity, while use of cashless payment options, including debit and credit cards, as well as mobile payments, was on the way up.

According to the RBA, it would not be surprising if these general trends were to continue as more consumers adopt electronic payment methods and new ways of paying emerge. This includes the New Payments Platform (NPP), which is set to offer an electronic alternative for making person-to person payments, and potentially lead to further declines in the use of cash for many payments. This new payment infrastructure, initially announced in 2013, is planned to be rolled out by the end of 2017.

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